Tesla has been making bold claims about future autonomous driving plans lately, most recently holding an “autonomy investor event” where the company laid out plans for its future full self-driving technology. At that event, Tesla stated that they would be ready to roll out a fully autonomous robotaxi fleet as early as next year, depending on regulations.
Today, CEO Elon Musk pushed that timeline forward a bit, and stated that Tesla’s long-planned autonomous cross-country roadtrip would actually occur later this year. Tesla has made claims in the past about enabling cross-country Autopilot travel, but the news today is that not only will it be possible for Tesla to do this on their own to demonstrate their technology, but that any Tesla owner (*with FSD software) will be able to do the same.
In previous mentions of the cross-country roadtrip, Musk has stated that Tesla could use specialized software to get the roadtrip done, but that it would be “cheating” to do so. Surely, picking the right roads, writing software specific to certain situations, would make the job much easier. But making a generalized solution for self-driving is much harder, as there will be many more unexpected situations and poorly-marked offramps in the real world.
So Tesla has pushed back plans for an LA-NY roadtrip until the software is ready without needing special code.
Until now, we’ve expected that this roadtrip would occur on a private, internal build of Tesla’s software, and that it would be used to help development, and for demonstration purposes, and that perhaps the software to enable it wouldn’t be fully available to the public until later. The last time we heard about it, it was going to happen on “alpha” software – which owners do not have access to.
But today Musk suggested that this software will be available to everyone by the end of this year:
We could have gamed an LA/NY Autopilot journey last year, but when we do it this year, everyone with Tesla Full Self-Driving will be able to do it too
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 9, 2019
Tesla and Musk are no stranger to short timelines, but this one seems shorter than most. In less than 8 months, not only will Tesla be able to do a demonstration drive across country, but the public will be able to do it as well.
A lot needs to be done before then. Autopilot still doesn’t stop for stop signs and red lights (though it does recognize them), only recently stopped requiring driver confirmation for lane changes, and still has trouble with some things like stationary vehicles. It also still requires that drivers keep their hands on the wheel. The FSD computer has only recently rolled out and tens of thousands of cars will need to be retrofit before “everyone” has this capability.
Some even still think that Tesla’s approach is unsustainable, with most of the rest of the industry thinking LIDAR is necessary to make full self-driving happen. But as we’ve recently reported, at least one AI expert agrees that Tesla has a huge lead in software. And a recent study by Cornell states that cameras should be enough for autonomous driving. Musk, for his part, thinks any company that relies on LIDAR as a crutch is “doomed…doomed!”
Questions still remain over whether this drive will be a “zero-intervention” drive where the driver just never touches the wheel (but still, for example, puts the car in park, plugs the car in, etc.), or if it will be a “simulated headless” drive where the driver is only inside the car for regulatory purposes but the car otherwise acts as if nobody is in it. The latter was promised in 2016 when Musk stated that within two years (by 2018), owners would be able to use Tesla’s “summon” feature to have the car pick them up on the other side of the country, even recharging itself along the way.
We’ve heard these promises many times before, and Tesla has missed many timelines before. Musk himself acknowledges that he’s sometimes optimistic with timelines, and this seems like another one which seems quite optimistic.
But about a year before Tesla’s original 2014 release of Autopilot, the Model S had zero driver-assist/active safety features at all, and Musk said that Tesla would be ahead of the industry in autonomous driving in a year. Nobody believed it at the time, but this statement eventually came true – and it was even on time. And Tesla has maintained their lead in driver-assist software since then.
So this could go either way. They might pull it off this time, but I’m not counting on it yet. I’d love to see it though, and if it happens, I guess a roadtrip will be in order.
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